Meet Molly, a 24-year-old California go-getter training to run across America next year! We are thrilled to be part of Molly’s journey from all-star field collegiate field hockey player to long (long!) distance runner. We will be checking in with her throughout the next year as she prepares to run (in her Balega socks!) from Santa Monica, California to Montauk, New York to support the Challenged Athlete Foundation (CAF). We sat down with Molly to get to know her, learn about why she is inspired to take on this endeavor, and how she is bracing herself physically and mentally to do so.
Can you tell us a little bit about you? Where did you grow up? Did you play sports?
I am 24 years old and I was born in Whittier, California; although, I’ve spent most my life living in San Jose, Calif. I love Northern California for many reasons but I still identify more with Southern California…I just love the warm weather and beaches year round, not to mention I’m a HUGE Dodgers fan.
I have two brothers and I am the middle child, needless to say, it was a competitive household growing up (and still is). I grew up playing basically every sport -- whether it was real or made up by me and my brothers. I have always felt comfortable playing sports. I started playing soccer when I was in second grade and immediately fell in love with the team aspect, competitiveness, and fun that sports brought to me. While I dabbled in other sports throughout elementary and middle school, soccer was always my main passion, until I discovered field hockey during my sophomore year of high school. I had transferred schools, and decided to play that as my fall sport instead of tennis. It was completely foreign and that motivated me to do well.
Long story short, I picked it up with ease and ended up getting a college scholarship. It was tough to decide between soccer and field hockey, but field hockey still felt new and more exciting to me so I played that at the college level. I had a successful career on and off the field; I was a four-time academic All-American, three time All-American, captain, broke nearly every school record we had, and created some of my own. Sports have been a huge part of my life, and have built me into the hard-working person I am today. I literally can’t imagine a life without sports!
What was the transition like from being an all-star field hockey player to long distance running?
The transition from field hockey to long distance running has been both easy and challenging. I have always enjoyed running and was one of the better runners on all of the teams I played on, so it wasn’t completely foreign. However, at the time, I thought going on a five to eight mile run was long distance…little did my sixteen-year-old self know what I’d be doing later on in life. Now I’m running five to eight miles and it feels like nothing! The challenging part of this transition is that I am all alone -- I don’t have a team with me. I am very much a team player and was always part of team sports. Running is the opposite. And while I have enjoyed this new experience, getting up at 5 a.m. before work isn’t always easy when you know if you don’t go, your team isn’t penalized -- it’s all on me.
I do have a running buddy, Rachel, who was my field hockey teammate in high school. We both transitioned into the sport of running post college. She has run a few marathons, including the Boston Marathon. She is a great runner and has become quite knowledgeable over the years, so it’s great to have her as a resource. Luckily, we live close to each other so we keep each other accountable in the mornings when we could easily hit snooze. Not only does it help keep me accountable, but just having someone who loves running is a breath of fresh air. My friends and family are the best support system, but they don’t fully understand when I say, “my splits were descending without even trying.” Having Rachel as a running bud and friend has helped my transition into long distance running.
What is your current training like?
Right now, I train with my coach, Bree Sanders, once a week. We switch up the workouts every week, it will be either a track workout, trail run, or gym session. Every meeting, she writes up a plan that will get me through every day until we meet again the following week. The workouts she gives me vary, but there is always a long slow day, tempo run, easy/recovery run, a gym day, and of course a rest day! The order of the workouts and intensities change week to week. In addition to all of that, I also do Pilates about four times a week. This helps me maintain my core strength and overall flexibility.
What else are you doing this year?
This year I am doing a lot with Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). I have joined a team for their 25 year anniversary triathlon event -- I’m doing the running portion of it! I am also running in the New York City Marathon as part of Team CAF. To switch up my routine, I play on a coed indoor soccer team every Friday night with a bunch of my friends, and that is a lifesaver for so many reasons. One, I get to play soccer, which I have missed a lot! Two, I get that team aspect and competitive game energy. And three, I get to hang out with my friends. Between training, work, and planning for my big run, I don’t have a lot of free time, so having this interaction once a week helps keep me sane!
What are you most excited about?
I am most excited about the people I will meet throughout this entire experience. I have already met some incredible people through CAF and this is just the beginning! I am excited to see where these relationships go and to learn from my experiences. This probably goes without saying, but I am also really excited to start running. I have no idea what I’m getting myself into and that excites me so much.
What are you most nervous about?
Serious injury. I am doing everything I can to prepare my body to make it to the end, but I’ve never endured something this intense so I really don’t know how my body will react.
What inspired you to want to run across the country?
I initially was inspired to do this run when I heard that groups run across America to raise money for charity. The run was split up, and different legs were run by different people. Being my competitive self, I immediately told myself I wanted to do the same thing, only I wanted to run all of it. At this point I was in college and didn’t know when I would find the time to train and actually run across the U.S, it then became part of my bucket list. I decided to pull the trigger and go for it once I graduated and when I found out about CAF, it was a done deal- it was a perfect foundation for me to run for and I couldn’t turn it down.
What are your motivators?
My supporters. People who think I can do this help me get up every day to go train. It’s more fun running knowing that I have a support system and people who care and believe in me as much as I do.
Why did you pick this specific route?
I want to start in California because that’s where I am from and I want to end in New York because that’s where I went to college and I have some roots there. I’m ending in Montauk specifically because it’s nicknamed “The End of The World” … and it’s a beach, one of my happy places.
What is your support system like? Both for the race and for the run?
For the run, I will have a support vehicle; my mom will be driving with my friend Whitney. Whitney will be keeping up with day to day mapping, helping me with social media, and anything else that is needed. Basically, my mom and Whitney are going to be rock stars/ life savers during my run. Those two are my support who will be physically with me, but I have so many other family members, friends, and even strangers who have reached and are supporting me, too. Support is so important to me and it really helps make this whole experience more enjoyable.
Why are you supporting CAF?
I’m supporting CAF because I think everyone deserves the opportunity to play the sport they love, and it should not be compromised by a physical disability. Sports have been a huge part of my life, and have helped me develop into the person I am today. I was fortunate enough to be born with a fully functioning body, I never had to second guess my abilities. As I’ve gotten older and more aware, I’ve really noticed how that is all taken for granted. After working out and playing with adaptive athletes over the years, I have grown an appreciation for their work ethic, passion, and positive attitude. It pains me to think that someone may not get a chance to play due to lack of proper funding/resources.
This +/- 3,000 mile journey is going to be my biggest challenge yet…and that’s the point! I am challenging myself to help those who challenge themselves every day. My intention is to spread awareness, promote inclusion, and unite people along the way.
How is your training going for NYC Marathon? What are your goals?
It’s going! It helps having smaller goals while training for my big run in 2019. My goal is to finish the race faster than my last marathon. I ran my first marathon in August 2017 and finished in four hours. Since then, I have learned about proper pre/during/post-race nutrition and I am a different runner after training with Bree. I know I can achieve this goal. I’m just excited to be representing CAF and enjoy the legendary NYC Marathon experience.
And last but not least, favorite pair of Balegas? :)
That’s a tough one! They are all so comfortable but I have to go with the Ultra Lights! They’re supportive yet light enough to feel like I’m running on air. The Silvers are pretty close to being #1 though -- when I need a little extra padding, the Silver is my go to.